The "Mission: Impossible" franchise is a strange one.
For one thing, I think people often misuse the word "franchise." Just because they make a few sequels to a movie, that doesn't automatically qualify that thing as a franchise. I think of that more as a description of a film property (or book property or game property… whatever sort of IP you want to substitute) that features a basic idea or premise that can be endlessly refigured to fit new casts, new creative teams, and new storytelling styles, with little real regard for continuity. "Mission: Impossible," from the moment it first aired as a television show, has offered up a near-perfect franchise engine, a premise so simple, so feather-light, that you can do anything with it, and as long as you strike those same few notes, it's recognizably "Mission: Impossible."
Over the weekend, I rewatched the first three "Mission: Impossible" films on Blu-ray. I've always been fond of the first one, and looking at it now, it's one of those early CGI-era movies that reaches for some groundbreaking stuff in how action is staged and shot that doesn't totally work on a technical level, but that deserves respect for pushing the envelope as much as it did. More than that, though, it's a fun piece of pop culture subversion that was designed to acknowledge the old school, then annihilate the old school, then introduce Tom Cruise as the new school. Brian De Palma made each set piece feel like he was having fun, and it was big and complex and sleek and absolutely proved that it would work on the big screen.
The second film is so bad that it feels like someone who was very angry at John Woo decided to make a MAD-magazine-style parody of John Woo films and then release it with his name attached as director. Awful.
The "Mission: Impossible" franchise is a strange one.
When my wife told me we were expecting our first son, my first response seemed entirely rational to me. I went to a bookstore, and I bought a giant collection of Dr. Seuss stories.
Why not? When I think about the things I want helping shape the world view of my kids, the work of Theodor Geisel is high on that list. Like Jim Henson, there is a decency and an expansive kindness that is central to his work, and if filmmakers hope to capture what works in the stories he created, they have to aim high.
When I went to the offices of Illumination Entertainment recently to check in on what they were doing with "The Lorax," I was very curious. One of the most overt of Seuss's books, "The Lorax" comes with a built-in environmental message that was upsetting 50 years ago but which is positively terrifying now considering how little we seem to have learned in that time.
My favorite thing about that photo of Yates, taken as the sun was going down in Orlando at the end of a long day spent at The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, is the way the silhouette behind him isn't a backdrop. Those are the actual spires of Hogwarts, part of the incredibly effective illusion created when you're actually there in person.
When you visit Islands of Adventure, the park is divided into different "worlds," and it's designed so that when you stand in each one, it's all you can see, and you're meant to be immersed in those worlds. The theme park aspects of the Los Angeles Universal park have always felt like an afterthought to me, wedged into the corners of a working studio property, but the Orlando park is a proper theme park, and you can tell it has been carefully designed and executed to give guests a very particular experience.
With The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, they've built it so that when you walk into Hogsmeade, it immediately feels like you've stepped into the world of the movies, and the effect is very impressive. There are familiar shops and restaurants all around you, and you can eat at The Leaky Cauldron or go shopping at Mr. Olivander's Wand Shop as you work your way past the stands selling Butterbeer or the twin dragon roller coasters, Hogwarts stands above all of it, a fantastic example of real-life forced perspective in environmental design.
A few weeks ago, I flew to Orlando to visit Harry Potter.
To be fair, I went to visit The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, part of the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure park, and to participate in the press day for the release of the "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" Blu-ray release. When I was invited, I had no idea who would be there, but I wanted to go and participate in what may well be the last major press event for the Potter series.
Oddly, I've never interviewed anyone associated with the Potter series during the entire run of the thing. Since 2001, I've been an observer, and that's been fine. At Ain't It Cool, Quint was the Potter superfreak, and I didn't feel like there was any reason to fight him on it. And here at HitFix, it's been a matter of timing that's led to other people going to London for various Potter set visits and press days.
It's been okay, though, because it's one of those things that was fun to watch as a finished product all the way through. I saw the Potter series the same way the public did, and because I never walked through the sets, never sat down with the cast, never really peeked behind the curtain. Hogwarts is just as substantial to me as it was to any other viewer.
Ahhh, the fine art of rumormongering.
Over the weekend, we got involved in a bit of a friendly back and forth with Latino Review over "Star Trek 2," or whatever the film's finally going to be called. They published the news that Benicio Del Toro was playing Khan Noonien Singh in the new sequel that is set to start shooting just after the start of the year, and we contacted JJ Abrams directly to ask him to comment. "Not true," he said.
Now it seems that Del Toro dropped out of negotiations to star in the film last Wednesday, and according to Vulture, Abrams is now looking to cast someone else as Khan. They claim they have a very highly-placed source and that, like Latino Review, they're hearing Khan is indeed the bad guy.
Technically, if negotiations broke down on Wednesday, then when I asked Abrams if Del Toro was playing the part on Friday, his "not true" is accurate no matter what the part is. After all, he didn't send a giant response detailing who is or isn't the bad guy he's using in the film, so he could very well have been playing by the rules, answering the question he was asked while volunteering nothing else.
I always loved the way an actor could show up in more than one role in the "Star Trek" universe, and it looks like Peter Weller is going to pull the same trick now as he steps up to play a major role in the new "Star Trek" sequel.
He previously showed up in a two-episode guest role for "Star Trek: Enterprise," which of course is just part of his science-fiction resume. He is most famous for being the original (and in my world, only) Robocop, but he's also appeared on shows like "Odyssey 5" and in films like "Leviathan" or "Screamers" or, most wonderfully, "Buckaroo Banzai."
Little by little, we're starting to see the shape of this new cast, and I like it. I'm excited to see Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto pick up the characters again, surrounded by that cast including Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho, and I think it's obviously very important who you play them off of now that they're a crew.
There are two things you should know before you read this.
First, El Mayimbe of Latino Review has a very, very high accuracy rate with the scoops he breaks. No one is perfect, but he's got a track record that demands that you pay attention when he runs something.
Second, JJ Abrams has never directly lied to me about something. He's demurred when asked some questions, and he's played coy about some things, but outright fabrication does not appear to be his bag.
So… take those two things into account when I tell you that Latino Review is reporting that Benicio Del Toro will be playing Khan Noonien Singh in the upcoming sequel to 2009's successful reboot of "Star Trek."
And when asked to comment on the report, Abrams responded with two very direct words: "Not true."
I have had a weird week. It's been really hard getting anything done because I feel like the whole day is taken up with the end of school for the year for the boys, or dealing with holiday stuff in general, or seeing about 800 movies at the last minute to make sure I feel like I've got my bases covered before I record my voice-over for this year's "10 Best Of The Year" video.
But while I'm here tonight, I'd like to catch up on a few stories that I think are worthwhile or exciting or reasons for optimism. I want to feel good about some movie news for a little while. And what better to kick that off with than news about Jane Goldman?
It still seems hard to believe that not everyone understands yet that Jane Goldman is awesome, since it's a scientifically established fact. I've spent enough time with her and with her primary creative partner so far in movies, Matthew Vaughn, that I have a fair sense of their chemistry, and I feel confident in saying that Jane is a force to be reckoned with. Whip-smart, with a voracious appetite for genre, she's got a natural deconstructionist's mind, but tempered with a real love of the flawed humanity of her characters.
With one of the largest theater chains in the country refusing to carry "Shame" because of its NC-17 rating, I'm not going to bet on the film breaking box-office records this weekend, but I certainly hope it does well.
First, I hope it does well because I'd love to see a serious film with that rating make enough money to justify other studios taking the chance. "Shame" is strong stuff, but it's not sleazy the way "Showgirls" was, and I think it justifies the notion of an "adult film" that isn't just an excuse for barely-disguised pornography.
Second, I just plain like the movie, as I said in my original review from the Toronto Film Festival. I'm excited for Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender to both get a big career boost out of this one. McQueen has proven himself to be a director of note with only two films under his belt so far, and Fassbender is one of this year's big breakout stars for good reason. When we look back at this year, we're going to think of two performers who really made a splash, and I think both Fassbender and Jessica Chastain are just getting warmed up.
About a week ago, I made the joke that things were starting to get ugly on the whole "Dr. Who" movie thing, but I didn't realize that it was going to really heat up, and tonight on Twitter, things got very confusing very quickly.
This all began when Variety ran a story a few weeks back in which David Yates was named as the director of a "Dr. Who" bigscreen film. Yates talked about how they were looking for writers and just starting development on the project. "We're going to spend two to three years to get it right. It needs quite a radical transformation to take it into the bigger arena," he said. Those are some pretty specific quotes, and Yates also said he was going to be working with Jane Tranter, BBC Worldwide's LA-based exec VP of programming and production.
The thing is, no one said anything to Steven Moffat, and that's a problem.
Tonight at around midnight LA time, Moffat tweeted the following:
"To clarify: any Doctor Who movie would be made by the BBC team, star the current TV Doctor and certainly NOT be a Hollywood reboot."
He followed that up about ten minutes later with a second tweet: